The Good, the Sorta Bad and the Gott-damn Youse Ugly
Film festivals like Newport draw the indies, the no-budgets, the starless vehicles, the studio dumps and the subtitled. Many get shot not when the light is absolutely perfect, but when there are no cops around to shut down production for lack of a filming permit. We see the takes that had sound or focus or correctly read lines or the appropriate look on the actor's face or no boom in the shot—but not necessarily all five. Hell, not necessarily any of the five. But that's why we go to these deals, no? We're not here for another slick Hollywood force-feeding. We cut the filmmakers some slack because at least they're saying something, although it's often unclear what the hell that is. And so the following compendium is divided the way it is, with apologies to the late, great indie director Sergio Leone, both for stealing and butchering one of his best-known spaghetti western titles. The Good is just what the name implies. The Sorta Bad is flawed, but we're not not recommending it, we're simply not recommending it. Make sense? Finally, while we'd just as soon ignore the really awful pictures, there are some so bad, so Gott-Damn Youse Ugly, that we feel duty bound to steer you away from them. Now read on, Fellini.
All photos courtesy the Newport Beach Film Festival or individual filmmakers.
ESL: English As a Second Language. Ever see a film where, just 10 minutes in, you know exactly what happens the rest of the way? Say hola to Latino cinema, the genre that never met a hardy illegal immigrant, sad pocha, familia moment in the dining room or sexy situation it didn't douse in salsa music or twangy, somber guitars. You'd think that after 20 years, two decades after Zoot Suit, La Bamba and Born in East L.A. heralded a new generation of Latino directors and actors raring to demolish clichs and stereotypes, that the situation would've improved, but it's getting worse. And ESL: English as a Second Language is probably the worst culprit yet.The film festival circuit doesn't think so: this Youssef Delara feature has already snagged awards at the Boston Latino, Portland and Santa Fe festivals. And ESL starts promisingly enough: an overexposed shot of the Mexican desert as a group of illegal immigrants trudge the final, arduous steps toward a waiting station wagon that will sprint them to los Estados Unidos. Spliced in are shots of Lola (Danielle Camastra), a spicy seorita prepping herself for a night of clubbing and mucho sexo. She drives away from her tryst only to crash into the immigrant-packed station wagon. In the chaos, one illegal immigrant, the caliente Bolivar (Kuno Becker), hops out to comfort her as the station wagon screeches away. Bolivar and Lola go on with their lives—Bolivar reaches the home of his exploitative aunt; Lola's mom (a harried Mara Conchita Alonso) bails her out of jail and takes her directly to a party celebrating Lola's imminent enrollment in law school. Bolivar struggles to find work as a day laborer; a judge sentences Lola to do community service. Bolivar enrolls in English classes at the local community center; Lola repays her debt to society by teaching English classes at the local community center.Retching yet? I tried steeling myself for more but turned off the screener after that first ESL class scene, where Lola walks in wearing a micro-mini and cute blue top and somehow ends up helping Bolivar and only Bolivar, as the electro-sex-funk of Venezuelan group Los Amigos Invisibles heats up the soundtrack and they both laugh. Really: this is as far as you need to see ESL. You know what follows.Other elements already introduced by this point are Lola's unexpected pregnancy, Bolivar sweet-talking his pregnant girlfriend back home, Bolivar looking for food, and Lola buckling under the expectations of her overachieving immigrant parents. But just in case you're interested, let's turn this review over to the Newport Beach Film Festival's summary:Bolivar finds money and fame as a male stripper and escort while Lola finds herself pregnant without a partner. She reaches out to Bolivar for emotional support, and even as he's sinking into a void of greed, drugs and promiscuity, Bolivar decides to answer Lola's call. As the two characters struggle with the demons that tear them up inside, they reach out to each other and are able to find the courage to make the choices that are most difficult but truest to their own selves.Hear that? That's the sound of Orange County Latinos howling in anger at the Newport Beach Film Festival for allowing such dreck to represent them. But don't judge the entirety of the festival's Latino Showcase by this stinker, cabrones. I'm sure there's a gem amongst the seven films in the series, maybe even one along the lines of last year's extraordinary Wetback: The Undocumented Documentary. But all ESL proves is that Boston, Portland and Santa Fe are cinematic backwaters. (Edwards Island, Tues., 9 p.m.) (Gustavo Arellano)
2006 Newport Beach Film Festival runs April 20-30 at Edwards Island Cinemas, 999 Newport Center Dr., Newport Beach; Orange County Museum of Art, 850 San Clemente Dr., Newport Beach; Regency Lido Theater, 3459 Via Lido, Newport Beach, (866) NBFF-TIX; www.NewportBeachFilmFest.com. General screenings, $10; festival spotlights, $15; parties and galas, $40-$125.
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